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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hey everyone!

I like to experiment building musical things and have done a bit of sax repair in the past. I like physics too, so I've come up with a little challenge.

I recently bought a Yamaha YRF-21Y "fife" for $10 shipped. I've kinda been wanting a piccolo (I know, I'm insane), and this turned out to scratch that itch nearly perfectly! It sounds amazingly good. Turns out keyless woodwinds are a lot of fun. There's a certain immediacy to playing with no clunky metal keys that is novel to me.

I say "fife" in quotes because it's not really a normal 6-hole fife where going up key by key you get the written D major scale and there is no note below D - right index is F# and right pinky does nothing. This little 8-hole flute is basically a Boehm system with no keys: right pinky plays C, right index is F. Left thumb also has a hole which does the C# to C thing like concert flute and clarinet. So you can use your Boehm system fingerings! It also seems to have a reverse-tapered bore and it has a lip plate. It seems fair that it should really be called a "keyless piccolo".

You already guessed the catch - no dedicated way to play accidentals. Cross fingerings work well for Bb and Ab. Gb is almost usable if you lip it down. However, Eb is unusable. You can almost get Eb or Db by half-holing, but who wants to do that?

So, to my main topic: I wanna build an Eb key. I've seen old one-key piccolos where the one key is indeed an Eb. However, I did some studying of my concert flute and I realized that the Eb on those is fundamentally different than the one I will have to build. Imitating those would be nice because it would be easiest to build the key after the D hole on the fife. However, those rely on what is now the D hole actually being the Eb hole in a sense, so since I can't move the existing hole I have to do it another way.

I can't find an example of this on flute, but I did some looking at my bari sax and realized that the sax F# chromatic fingering is exactly what I need. The ring finger level opens a smaller hole that is before the F key, which remains closed. So it proves its possible that I can drill a new hole between the E and D holes and create a normally-closed key mechanism to operate it. It'll have to have a little rod of some sort because the key will be after the D hole but the hole before it.

My question is: where should I drill the hole and how big should it be? I've looked at some flute hole calculators, but none seem to get this in depth. I feel like the main consideration is that the D hole is still closed, which presumably will drag down the pitch and mean that we can't just drill the new hole where an Eb hole ought to go in the absence of the D hole being closed. Any education is appreciated!

Thanks!
 

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Keilwerth saxes (S/A/T), Selmer clarinets (S/B), Altus Azumi flute
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So, to my main topic: I wanna build an Eb key. I've seen old one-key piccolos where the one key is indeed an Eb. However, I did some studying of my concert flute and I realized that the Eb on those is fundamentally different than the one I will have to build. Imitating those would be nice because it would be easiest to build the key after the D hole on the fife. However, those rely on what is now the D hole actually being the Eb hole in a sense, so since I can't move the existing hole I have to do it another way.
The highlighted part above is not correct, at least not in any sense that I can think of. It's best to think of the tone holes in terms of what notes they are venting. In this case, you can think of the open end of your fife as the "D tone hole" and the hole that the ring finger covers as the "E tone hole".

So, your intuition that you should build the hole below the ring finger hole (i.e., the "E tone hole") is correct. In other words, you just need to build a key that opens a hole below the last finger hole on your fife. Now, exactly how far that hole should be from the existing one and how big, I don't know. Hopefully someone else will be able to help you with that.

One empirical approach, if you don't mind the note being slightly "colored", is to make a small hole midway between the ring finger hole and the end of the flute. Start it very small, and gradually enlarge it (i.e., using an iterative test-then-enlarge procedure) until you bring it up to the correct pitch.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
The highlighted part above is not correct, at least not in any sense that I can think of. It's best to think of the tone holes in terms of what notes they are venting. In this case, you can think of the open end of your fife as the "D tone hole" and the hole that the ring finger covers as the "E tone hole".

So, your intuition that you should build the hole below the ring finger hole (i.e., the "E tone hole") is correct. In other words, you just need to build a key that opens a hole below the last finger hole on your fife. Now, exactly how far that hole should be from the existing one and how big, I don't know. Hopefully someone else will be able to help you with that.

One empirical approach, if you don't mind the note being slightly "colored", is to make a small hole midway between the ring finger hole and the end of the flute. Start it very small, and gradually enlarge it (i.e., using an iterative test-then-enlarge procedure) until you bring it up to the correct pitch.
Thanks for the reply. The instrument actually plays down to C with the right pinky. You're right though - I was confused. The ring finger is the E tone hole and the pinky is the D tone hole (meaning the end of the flute is the C). So the new (normally-closed) hole goes between the E and D tone holes and can be easily actuated by the pinky while the ring finger is still down on the E tone hole. Just like a normal flute or sax, silly me :p.

So now I just need some guidance on calculating the right position and size for the hole.
 

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I would just drill a 1/8” hole halfway between the 2 lowest holes and 90 degrees offset from the E hole and enlarge by 1/32” as needed. Worst case scenario just buy another one to experiment on. Compared to the cost of buying metal stock, solder, flux and all the various specialized tools you would need if you plan on making standard posts the cost of the fife is minimal.
 

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I'd buy one to experiment on; you can temporarily plug wrong holes with wax; then when you get it situated drill your other one.
 

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alto: 82Zii/Medusa/Supreme, tenor: Medusa, bari: b-901, sop, sc-990
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Please let us know how this works out. I have a Yamaha fife too and might try your idea.
 

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selmer 26 nino, 22 curved sop, super alto, King Super 20 and Martin tenors, Stowasser tartogatos
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Take a clue from recorders and drill a double hole for the RH3 that are right next to each other so that both can be covered with the finger pad, Rolling the finger uncovers the smaller lower hole, which is your D#, and lifting the finger uncovers both holes for your E
 
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